The Unusual History of the Easter Bunny

The Easter season is here! Spring is on the way, the crocuses are starting to come up, and our thoughts turn to bunnies and chocolate. But you might wonder, how did the tradition of the Easter Bunny come about? The origins of the modern Easter Bunny are shrouded in mystery, but there are a few theories on how the floppy eared, egg bearing rabbit came about.

Easter Bunny in Basket with Easter Eggs

Easter in Other Countries

First, it’s important to know that the bunny is not a universal symbol of Easter. In Europe, there was a figure named Eostre, for whom Easter was named. In some parts of Germany, her companion was a fox, and children would craft nests out of moss and grasses to put outside for the fox to leave eggs and gifts. They would also lock up all pets for the night to ensure that the Easter Fox (in German, the Osterfuchs) would be undisturbed while leaving his presents. Swiss children fill their baskets with eggs and chocolate eggs left by the Easter Cuckoo, and in Australia, the Easter Bilby that brings treats to children (rabbits are not popular in Australia, for good reason!). 

So What About the Easter Bunny?

Historians suggest that the Easter Bunny arrived in America through german immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. They brought with them the tradition of a rabbit who would go from house to house, leaving eggs and gifts in the baskets that little children set out for them. Further investigation showed that this rabbit was originally a hare.

But where did this german tradition come from? There’s a mythological figure from Germany named Ostara, who was symbolic of the fertility and new life of the coming spring. It is said that Ostara changed her pet bird into a rabbit to amuse children, and the rabbit laid brightly colored eggs, which Ostara gave to children as gifts. This myth eventually brought about the tradition of the Easter Bunny, bringing colored eggs and other gifts to children.

The same tradition is practiced today in the US (and some, but not all, european countries), except the moss nests have become baskets filled with grass. The addition of chocolates is relatively modern, having come about in the late 1800s.

Madonna of the Rabbit, Titian, 1530

In Christian tradition, rabbits are also symbols of fertility and rebirth, and have been depicted in christian inspired art for centuries. They are associated not just with the resurrection of Christ, but also with Christ’s birth. In fact, the Madonna of the Rabbit by Titan, a painting dating back to 1530, depicts Mary petting a white rabbit, in this case to symbolize both new birth and purity (from the color white). So it’s natural for the rabbit to be a part of what is a Christian holiday of rebirth.

Why Easter Eggs?

Ostara’s egg-laying rabbit aside, why eggs? Well, eggs are another symbol of rebirth and fertility, not just in Europe, but all over the world. The famous Faberge egg from Russian history was a fancy version of the Easter egg, extravagant gifts given by Russian Tsars to friends and family members.Iranian people decorate eggs for Norwuz, a new year holiday that falls on the Spring Equinox. In Russian Orthodox tradition, eggs were dyed red to symbolize the spilled blood of Christ, and the shell of the egg symbolized his sealed tomb.

Additionally, during the observance of Lent, Christians were historically not permitted to eat meat or eggs. Easter Sunday, coming at the end of Lent, was the first day that they could eat eggs, so eggs were naturally a part of that celebration.

Easter Eggs in Basket

So whether you are visited by a friendly fox, a fluff-tailed bunny, a bilby or a cuckoo, there is a way for you to celebrate this Easter! Just remember to leave a basket out for the wily critter to fill with eggs and candy!

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